It was almost a year ago that I sat my parents down and delivered the news to them. They were stunned and could not quite understand what I was saying. There were a few seconds of silence that felt like an eternity, followed by some melodrama that was reminiscent of of the TV serials that my mother indulges in. I had just told my parents that I was thinking of moving out of home and getting a place of my own. Being a man who just broke into his thirties, I thought this was a reasonable thing to do – but no, not in the eyes of my parents, especially my mother; it felt like the end of the world to her. She wanted to know why. Why do I want to leave home? Well, there were a number of reasons…
When I was 18, with my parents’ blessings, I moved out of home to go to university. My parents were happy for me to fly the nest TEMPORARILY as I was fulfilling one of their parental objectives – their son gaining a respectable degree. For me, this was my first experience of liberation from the day-to-day confines of my parent’s expectations of me as a son. As you can imagine, I fully embraced this freedom and immersed myself in my newfound shackle-free existence. Those four years away from home had a significant impact on the development of me as a person. All of a sudden, my world became bigger. I met people from all walks of life that helped broaden my understanding of life and helped me empathise with other mind-sets. I experienced my first ever alcohol fuelled night, followed by my first ever hangover. I experienced the feeling of falling in love for the first time and the physical intimacy that came with it. With this freedom, came one mistake after another – teaching me the valuable life lesson that freedom without responsibility is like sky diving without a parachute. At the end of the four eventful years, pardon the cliché, I graduated as a man.
After years of living in a utopian world that is student life, moving back home was a shock to the system. I once again walked into the confines of my parents’ expectations of me as a son. The first 6 months were difficult for me as well as them. My parents struggled to adapt to their ‘new’ son who had moved back home. They were yearning for the same boy who had left home four years ago but now they were faced with a man who had changed beyond recognition. As I wanted to live with the same freedom as I had become accustomed to, my parents struggled with imposing their will on a rebelling son. As time went by, we found a happy medium that allowed us to co-exist with compromises becoming the staple diet in our household.
In the Tamil community, it is common for children to live at home in their twenties. The children live at home until they get married. In some cases, the children live at home even after marriage. However, living in the west, we are exposed to a culture where leaving home in your late teens/ early twenties is the norm. The expectation is that you are an adult at the age of 18 and you are expected to be able to fend for yourself. This liberates the parents from their parental duties, enabling them to re-ignite their passions and explore more adventures that they had to put on hold while raising children.
Living at home in your twenties is a tricky situation to manage. My mother always wanted to know what time I would be back and if I was late even by 5 minutes, I was inundated with phone calls. I lost count of the number of times that my phone on the table would ring and flash ‘Amma’ when I was on a date. Coming home drunk was always eventful, as my father will choose those nights to bond with his inebriated son. The peak of my ‘living at home’ pain always came when I was on dates and I will be asked ‘So where do you live?’ I would breakout into a sweat before I embarrassingly reveal that I was still at home and yes, my mum still washes my clothes. In later years, as I became more familiar with ‘Date FAQs’, I would go on dates fully prepared with a lie, which normally would go like ‘ I just sold my flat, so living with my parents until I find the right penthouse’. The other conundrum was when the girl wanted to come back to ‘my place’ (just to talk of course) – this always resulted in some very creative lies or the biting of the bullet and telling the truth. As you can imagine, this was never the recipe for long-lasting relationships. The truth is most women (including Tamil women who live at home) like independent Men – Men who are able to survive without their mother’s supervision. So living at home, does put you at a disadvantage when trying to find ‘love’.
Moving back at home also meant that I regained my place at the centre of my mother’s universe. She began to neglect many of the things that she enjoyed doing, so she can make sure her son is always well fed and all his needs are taken care of. She would refuse to take a holiday without her son, as she was worried that he would not cope. My mother and father’s outings together became less frequent – which began to have a negative effect on their relationship. As their relationship deteriorated, it became clear to me that I needed to be selfish to be selfless.
As Tamils, it is important that we preserve the core family values that sets us apart. However, it is also important that we are not restricted by the invisible chain that is culture – to be more specific, our definition of culture. Culture, like anything else, is constantly changing. Culture is a reflection of social norms, not the driver of social norms
It has now been over a year since I moved out of home and I am pleased to say that it has worked out well. I have become fully domesticated (take note ladies), and feel relieved that I do not have to suffer those awkward moments on dates any more. I have also been surprised by how quickly my parents have adapted, especially my mother. She is now content with daily phone calls and weekend visits to verify that I am still maintaining a level of hygiene that is acceptable to her high standards. My parents have started some new hobbies, spending time with friends, and going on holidays. And, these days, I am not the only one going on dates.